Jews tend to be pessimistic about the near future. Something about our history, which hasn't exactly been a romp through sunny meadows, conditions us this way.
But when the pessimism proves justified and our fears are confirmed, we shift into a more optimistic mode. We tell ourselves that this too has its place in the Divine plan. After all, we are still here after our oppressors have long disappeared from the stage.
It is no secret that religious Jews in Israel did not vote for Ehud Barak in large numbers. It's hard to get too excited about someone whose most concrete campaign promise is to cut funding to your kids' schools and whose supporters biggest gripe is
that your children should never have been born.
Nevertheless many of us have been pleasantly surprised since the election by the prime minister-elect's expressed desire to seek consensus solutions to the internal and external problems confronting us.
That quest for consensus, of course, is partly the function of numbers.
Barak's One Israel Party fared only marginally better than the Likud.
Despite Barak's personal landslide (including a bare majority of the Jewish vote), the left-wing parties, even with the Arab parties, comprise less than half the Knesset. (Yisrael Ba'aliya's vote and leaders both tend toward the Right on issues of war and peace.) And the situation is virtually the same on the vexing internal issues: a dramatic rise in militant anti-Orthodoxy on the one hand and the phenomenal growth of Shas on the other.
Barak has had plenty of chance to observe the torture chamber in which Netanyahu was confined the past three years, and he has no desire to find himself in the same situation, confronting constant threats from within his own party and coalition.
(Am I the only one who thinks that Bibi was secretly relieved to have lost? Had he won, he would have awakened the next morning to confront the irreconcilable demands of Shas and Yisrael Ba'aliya, each threatening to bring down the government before it was even formed if they did not get the Interior Ministry.)
Whatever Barak's true views, which would seem to be considerably more moderate than a number of his would-be allies, the country will unquestionably be served by an approach that seeks to identify areas of agreement rather than play on our tribal tensions.
Though putting together a workable coalition will be no piece of cake for Barak, he still has more options than poor Bibi ever did. As a consequence, it is almost certain that the religious parties will play a far less central role in the next government than
That is not, however, necessarily a bad thing for the cause of Torah. So much nonsense has been repeated so frequently in recent years about religious coercion and the desire of the Orthodox to impose a halachic state that many non-religious Jews truly believe Teheran beckons. One look at Tommy Lapid's face is enough to convince anyone that this man seldom resists a physical urge, and certainly never because he felt compelled by any religious Jews or anything written in the Torah.
Yet his ranting about religious coercion finds a receptive audience.
Never mind that the religious parties have not introduced one piece of legislation in 20 years other than to codify the original status quo agreements.
The continual spotlight on religious MKs fans the fires of Lapid's demagoguery. A lowered profile for the religious parties might dramatically reduce tensions between the secular and religious populations. The less fearful the secular population is about
religious political power, the more open they will be to hear the timeless message of the Torah.
At the very least, a reduction in the political power of the religious parties will serve to expose how simplistic are the claims that all the country's problems can be solved by simply 'taking care' of the haredim and settlers.
My guess is that Barak would prefer to focus initially on the Oslo process to resolving the internal divisions of Israeli society. Generals prefer not to fight on two fronts at the same time. Yet for many of his prospective coalition partners the end of Israel as a Jewish state is at the top of the agenda. The first step in the process is to denude the term Jewish of any meaning by forcing the state to confer legitimacy on any product labelling itself Jewish.
Yet even if Meretz and Shinui were successful, the ultimate results might be far different than they anticipated. If, for instance, all commercial activity were legalized on Shabbat, non-observant Jews would soon discover that Shabbat legislation was for them. The religious will still delight in Shabbat whatever anyone else does.
It is the non-religious who will find themselves thrust deeper into the seven-day a week rat race. The people who gave the world the idea of a day of rest and of man as something more than homo economicus will find themselves subject to employers
demands for ever longer hours. Nor will shopping at the mall prove the type of activity needed to mend the torn fabric of family life or provide an escape from the anomie of modern life, with such attendant ills as wildly escalating school violence.
Similarly, the recognition of Reform conversion, a short shuffle from from the secular 'conversion' recently proposed by Yossi Beilin, will not effect the way any Torah Jew conducts his private life. He will still know whom he can marry and whom he cannot.
It is the Jewish identity of secular Jews that will be adversely affected.
In their heart of hearts, most non-observant Jews will not recognize any common bond with those who neither share their history nor have taken on any meaningful commitment to Judaism. Having already debunked all the old Zionist 'myths,' the Left
will end up creating a country devoid of any sense of common identity.
A taste of the secular utopia, emptied of all values except the pursuit of pleasure, might bring Jews to once again give serious thought to their Jewish identity and ultimately back to Torah. Could that be the role of our recent elections in the Divine plan?